John / Nonfiction / Science

Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik

The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the longest streaks of losing seasons in professional sports history (20 straight) before posting a winning record in 2013. Travis Sawchik’s BigData Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streakexplains in depth what The Pirates organization did to finally get back on the right track. Not having money to go after many, or even a few, big name free agents, the team invested greatly in statistics wizards and analysts. The team signed veteran catcher Russell Martin after researching the value of catchers like him who are able to consistently get borderline strike calls from umpires. They also picked up pitcher Francisco Liriano, who most teams thought was washed up. The Pirates coaching staff was able to get Liriano to better utilize his sinking fastball, and they also put a much better defense behind him than he had had on his previous teams. This defense was perhaps The Pirates biggest leap forward both in terms of their success and in how many other teams were copying them in the next two years. The Pirates used radical shifts, particularly with their infielders, and used these shifts on multiple hitters from opposing teams. These moves, and many similar ones, were a large part of what ended The Pirates losing ways.

Big Data Baseball will obviously get comparisons to Money Ball by Michael Lewis. I doubt that it will have the broad appeal of Lewis’ book, but it’s still an entertaining read that tells a wonderful David versus Goliath story. The book shows that teams can have success without signing players to $200 million dollar contracts.


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